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A bill introduced last week would require Utah universities and colleges to disclose all foreign gifts over $50,000 and conditional gifts, such as scholarships and endowments, of any amount.

"There is a need at all levels of government to have full disclosures," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, the Herriman Republican sponsoring HB 114. "We need to know who's attempting to influence curricula and possibly buy favors from our institutions."

But a national expert panned the proposal, saying it would serve little purpose because safeguards are already in place. And it could pose an unintended downside.

"Fundraisers are ethically obligated to not accept gifts when the donor wants to use it to influence institutional decisions," said Rae Goldsmith, of the Washington, D.C.-based the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). "There can't be a quid pro quo. They can't influence the content taught in the classroom. Institutions will be careful to not cross that line."

Under CASE's ethics standards, donors may direct gifts to certain programs or research initiatives, but may not dictate the content of the program, the course of the research or the beneficiary of the scholarship or the chair.

"Otherwise, it's not truly a gift," Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith knows of no other state that has adopted disclosure rules like those proposed for Utah, but federal law already requires institutions to report foreign gifts in excess of $250,000.

"The $250,000 at the federal level is too high," Wimmer said. "Our universities are above reproach and the presidents would never allow undue influence. But I believe [the bill is] good public policy."

HB114 applies only to the state's nine public institutions, some of which rely heavily on private giving. During each of the last two fiscal years, the U. has reaped $161 million, some of it from foreigners, according to Fred Esplin, the University of Utah's vice president for institutional advancement.

While Esplin said he doubts Wimmer's measure would affect the U.'s ability to raise money, Goldsmith suspects it could have an unmeasurable impact.

"Fundraisers are not normally going to ask where a donor was born. It puts the fundraiser in the position of asking intrusive questions," she said. "It has the potential to drive gifts away from public institutions or even outside the state."

International fundraising is becoming more common, according to Goldsmith. "They are looking abroad not just because there's money there, but because they have constituents there," she said.

HB114's definition of a foreign person includes any resident who is not a U.S. citizen and domestic corporations with strong ties to foreign governments, people or organizations. The measure would require universities to submit an annual report to the Board of Regents by July 31, explaining the aggregate amounts of foreign gifts collected over the preceding fiscal year. The report would include the identities of foreign donors, their national affiliations and the value of the gifts, as well as conditions under which they are used.

The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.